One of the key elements of reform of the Common Fisheries Policy is the introduction of a phased ban on the discarding of unwanted fish catches. In June 2013, under the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, a practical and phased discards policy or landing obligation was agreed. The first part of the landing obligation, namely, the ban on the discarding of pelagic stocks such as herring and mackerel, came into effect on 1 January 2015 and will be extended to certain demersal stocks, i.e., white fish and prawns, from 1 January 2016.
The landing obligation will be fully phased in for all quota stocks by 1 January 2019. It is with regard to quota stocks and not non-quota stocks.
The phasing-in period was one of my key demands during the negotiations, to allow fishermen time to adjust and implement changes to avoid unwanted catches. Under the new Common Fisheries Policy, the details of how the landing obligation will apply in particular fisheries, and what, if any, flexibility, for example de minimis which would allow some discarding, can be applied are decided upon by regional groups and member states in consultation with stakeholders. Ireland is a member of the north-western waters group, along with Belgium, France, the Netherlands, the UK and Spain. Stakeholders are represented at the north-western waters regional advisory council and the pelagic advisory council. After intense negotiations, it was agreed in June of this year that from 1 January 2016 for the north-western waters the ban on discarding will apply to the prawn, or nephrops, fishery in all waters, the whiting fishery in the Celtic Sea, the haddock fishery in the Irish Sea and the north-west area, the hake fishery in all areas and the sole fishery in the Celtic Sea. The other stocks will be phased in over the following three years. Nobody is asking anybody to do anything massive in one year. This will be done piece by piece. We can see the difficulties as they emerge and we can try to solve them. That is what this is about.
The vessels which will be subject to the landing obligation in 2016 are being identified on the basis of a combination of gear type and historic landing data. For example, a vessel that had more than 25% of cod, haddock, whiting and saithe combined in its landings from the Celtic Sea in 2013 and 2014 will be obliged to land all the whiting it catches in the Celtic Sea next year.
This is a big ask for the industry. This is a big change to the Common Fisheries Policy but let us be clear that up to 40% of the adult and juvenile fish caught under the Common Fisheries Policy since it was last reformed, and before that, has been dumped into the sea dead. The idea that this is okay, because it is difficult to manage an alternative to simply dump what is estimated to be 400,000 tonnes of fish, needed to change. This is equivalent in weight to all of the beef we export from this country, and we are the biggest exporter of beef by far in the European Union. The Irish Government is now going to change it, and we will move away from what is called a landed quota for fishermen. At present, if fishermen have a quota of five tonnes and they catch eight tonnes, they need to dump three tonnes into the sea. Instead, they will have a catch quota, which will provide challenges for fishermen and we will help them through this.
We have the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF, which is double anything we ever had before for the fishing sector. It is a significant amount of money to spend on the fishing industry to help it adapt to the transformation we need to fund over the coming years. We have started with pelagic fish and it has worked. We are now moving to some demersal stocks for next year, those we believe we can implement most easily, and we will learn as we go along and help fishermen adapt. There are flexibilities we can use and obviously there will be tolerance when it is introduced on 1 January. This change must be made, and let us be absolutely clear about this. It will be done and it must be done. The producer organisations and fishermen, by and large, have been working with us to try to ensure it works in a practical way.
I have been in Castletownbere, where we held a meeting specifically on this on the quayside, answering questions for approximately an hour and a half. Dr. Noel Cawley has a job to do to make sure communication continues until and after 1 January to ensure the implementation of the new policy, which is about creating healthier fish stocks so there is more fish for everybody to catch. The win for fishermen is that moving from a landed quota to a catch quota means they should get a quota uplift when we negotiate quotas in December. This means we should, hopefully, get access to catching more prawns than we would otherwise have been able to catch because we will not be dumping any over the side. We must factor in this, with regard to everything that will be landed in the future. There is an upside for the fishing industry. There is an immediate upside in quota uplift, which needs to be negotiated on the basis of science, and, of course, there is a medium to long-term significant uplift in terms of the health of the stocks. This can be a good news story but together we will have to learn to adapt and change how we fish. I am certainly up for this in terms of the support programmes we will put in place.